Any problem with your mouth can affect eating and drinking as well as your ability to talk comfortably. Your mouth can become dry and sore due to medications, radiotherapy, oxygen therapy and some infections.
Some people with advanced illness have a dry mouth, because they produce less saliva, or they breathe more through their mouth due to breathlessness. Oxygen treatment can also cause a dry mouth. Radiotherapy to the head and neck and certain drugs can be another cause. Speak to your doctor if it’s likely that a drug is causing your dry mouth, as a replacement drug may be available. Feeling anxious can also make your mouth feel dry. A dry mouth can be uncomfortable and change the way your food tastes.
Tips for dealing with a dry mouth
- Regular mouthwashes can help keep your mouth clean and moist but avoid any that contain alcohol or glycerine as these can dry the lining of your mouth.
- If your tongue is coated, try gently cleaning it with a soft toothbrush or cotton bud.
- Fizzy drinks such as fresh orange juice with soda water can be a refreshing way to keep your mouth moist. You could also try sucking flavoured ice cubes and ice lollies.
- Keep your lips moist by using Vaseline® or a flavoured lip balm. Smoothing a small amount of vegetable oil on the lining of your mouth can help to keep it moist, especially at night.
- Artificial saliva is available as gels, sprays, pastilles or lozenges. Your doctor can prescribe these for you.
- Have a drink with your meal, and include plenty of sauces and gravy with meals.
- Sugar-free chewing gum can stimulate saliva production.
- Avoid dry foods such as chocolate and pastry and eat foods with a high fluid content, such as jelly, pureed fruits and soft puddings.
- Unsweetened pineapple chunks or melon can help keep your mouth fresh and moist.
If you have a dry mouth for a long time you have a higher risk of tooth decay, so it’s important to take care of your teeth. Your dentist will be able to help you with this and will want you to have regular check-ups. Some dentists will visit you at home if you can’t attend the surgery.
Sore mouth and throat
If you have mouth ulcers, your doctor may prescribe an antiseptic and painkilling mouthwash for you to use. You may also be prescribed a protective gel that can help ease any pain and discomfort. If you’re taking antibiotics or steroids, you may develop a fungal infection in your mouth called thrush. This coats your tongue and can make eating unpleasant. Your doctor can prescribe an anti-fungal medicine to clear this. Always contact your doctor if mouth pain is making it difficult to eat or talk. They can prescribe painkillers if necessary.
Helpful hints if you have a sore mouth
- Follow a mouth care routine as far as possible.
- If your toothpaste stings, use a mouthwash instead.
- If you wear dentures, you may find it easier to leave them out for a while to prevent them rubbing against your gums. Ask your doctor about this if you’re having radiotherapy to the jaw area, as you may be advised to keep your dentures in as much as possible during the day to help maintain the shape of your gums.
- Avoid neat spirits, tobacco, hot spices, garlic, onion, vinegar and salty foods, as these may irritate your mouth.
- Keep your mouth and food moist. Add gravy and sauces to your food to make swallowing easier.
- Avoid rough-textured food, such as toast and crisps, as these can scrape sore areas.
- Try to drink at least one litre (about two pints) of fluid a day - this can include water, tea, weak coffee and soft drinks such as fruit juices.
- Try drinking through a straw to avoid irritating sore parts of your mouth.
- Cold foods and drinks can be soothing to a sore mouth. Try adding crushed ice to drinks and eating ice cream or ice lollies.
- Warm herbal teas may be more soothing than acidic drinks like orange and grapefruit juice.
Drooling (or dribbling) is the unintentional loss of saliva from the mouth. Drooling may occur in some medical conditions such as when there is inflammation of the lining of the mouth or as a reaction to some medications. In some neurological conditions including Motor Neurone Disease, Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis, drooling is relatively common
There can be health and hygiene problems for people who drool most of the time and excessively. The skin around the mouth, chin and neck can become red and sore, and dehydration may occur because of fluid loss. There may also be problems with eating, infections may be more easily transmitted, and choking is more likely, as are chest infections.
Treatments for drooling
A variety of techniques have been used to treat drooling. Treatments may include:
- Exercises to increase muscle tone, improve oral-motor function and improve sensory awareness
- Medication, where drugs might be used to dry up salivary secretions
- Botulinum toxin injections to help prevent and control drooling
- Removal of a salivary gland may be considered in extreme cases
- Surgery, where salivary glands are usually turned towards the back of the mouth so that saliva runs towards the back rather than the front of the mouth